Economy Hungary

Hungarians increasingly displaced by guest workers – report

| 2024-01-27 2 min read

Hungarians increasingly displaced by guest workers – report

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Foreign workers are increasingly replacing Hungarians across various sectors due to structural issues within the country’s economy. Government backing of lower-wage sectors such as auto and battery production, has forced highly skilled Hungarians abroad, and foreign workers are filling the void, local media wrote. 

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government eased labour rules for non-EU workers last year to address shortages in manufacturing and other sectors. A follow-up bill in November then created a new seasonal workers category, who can work for six months and then have their working visas extended by another half-year.

The number of guest workers in Hungary reached 95,000 last September, up from 82,500 in the same period a year ago and 60,000-70,000 before the pandemic. Based on this average monthly growth of 1,000, that number could be about to reach 100,000, according to Hungarian statistics office KSH.

Hungarians sacked in favour of foreign workers

At Bumchun, a South Korean company that produces aluminium jacks for electric car batteries, Hungarians were sacked for Vietnamese workers, despite government aid. Similar incidents occurred at the Continental tyre plant in Mako, south Hungary, where 150 guest workers reportedly arrived from Indonesia and in Gyongyos with workers from the Philippines, according to local media. Data shows that some 150,000 Hungarians have signed up with temporary work agencies.

Typically, factories are expanded by Hungarian and foreign workers, then the former are sacked. Hungarian Workers’ Union chairman Tamas Szekely expressed concern that these events may stoke new levels of xenophobia. 

Hungarian labour consultant Tibor Erzse noted in local media that foreign labour is not necessarily cheaper, but workers can be more motivated and have lower expectations regarding health and safety as well as workers’ rights, including on dismissals.

Opposition party calls for higher esteem for Hungarians

Far-right Mi Hazank (Our Homeland) called for an independent Hungarian national economy centred on domestic manufacturing, and better treatment of Hungarian workers.

The opposition politicians noted that real wages in Hungary now compare unfavourably with Poland, blaming the privatisations of the 1990s. The Orban government’s focus on battery superpower status then led to the reliance on guest workers, they added.